Guide Talk: He’s a Phantom Ranch Regular

Meet OARS Grand Canyon Hiking and Rafting Guide Jimmy Fulmer

He may have grown up in Arizona, but Jimmy Fulmer never visited Grand Canyon National Park as a kid.

“When you’re from Phoenix, your parents just don’t take you to the Grand Canyon for some reason,” shares Jimmy. “It’s probably like the Statue of Liberty if you’re in New York City.”

It wasn’t until he worked as a fish biologist with Arizona Game and Fish Department that he first experienced the canyon and became enthralled with it.

“I went on a non-native trout removal project, and during the trip I just fell in love with the canyon,” he recalls. It was that trip when he knew he wanted to find a way to get into river guiding.

Hidden waterfalls in Grand Canyon

Then, in 2007 he signed up for a Wilderness First Responder course through OARS and Desert Mountain Medicine, which gave him the opportunity to show off some of his rowing skills and get his foot in the door with OARS. Later that same season, Jimmy landed a baggage boat position with the company and has been guiding ever since. In addition to Grand Canyon rafting trips, the avid hiker has also been an integral part of the company’s Grand Canyon hiking program, which launched in 2014.

Between personal hiking trips and leading groups of guests, Jimmy estimates he’s hiked down to Phantom Ranch more than a hundred times. No matter how many times he’s hiked rim to river, he’s still up with anticipation the night before each trip.

“It’s just the excitement of being able to get down into the canyon and hear the sounds and see the beauty of it,” he says.

We talked to Jimmy about the challenges of Grand Canyon hiking trips, what he loves most about guiding and his favorite spots in the canyon.

Grand Canyon hiking guide Jimmy Fulmer on the trail

You’re both a Grand Canyon rafting and hiking guide. What do you love most about your work?

I find it really rewarding when I can take a young person who maybe their parents dragged on a trip, and then by the end they are so in love with hiking that they want to be a guide. They push past those initial thoughts of, “Hey, I don’t want to do this” to the point of, “Where else can I hike?” You get them into the canyon, they’re not into camping, but by the end they’re enjoying it so much. Being a dad, it’s nice to take young people into the wild and give them a different experience and outlook that they maybe wouldn’t have had if they didn’t go on a guided trip with someone who really loves the outdoors.

What’s one of the biggest challenges of guiding Grand Canyon hiking trips?

To get people in and out. That’s the biggest challenge – getting people to believe they can do it, to understand that it’s really just a hill, and coaching them through it.

What’s something that you always have in your pack?

I always have a spare pair of flip flops and a river strap. People always say, “Why do you have that heavy river strap?” It’s just something I always put on my backpack. It has so many good uses. I mean, it works well for hanging backpacks and first aid purposes. It could be a good tourniquet. It could help splint a leg, or an ankle. I may never use it, but if I need it then it’s going to be something I’m going to be really thankful I have.

Do you have a favorite spot in Grand Canyon?

I love any of the creek bottoms in Grand Canyon, including Bright Angel Creek next to Phantom Ranch or Garden Creek at Indian Gardens. I also really find Ribbon Falls to be one of those places where you can understand why the Zuni believe they emerge from the waterfall out of the underworld. Or, the Little Colorado River, Havasu Creek, all of those creek bottoms, they’re just priceless. You can’t put a price on lying next to one of those creeks.

Grand Canyon Rafting Guide Jimmy Fulmer

Do you have any funny stories from a trip you’d like to share?

I was doing a late fall river trip and I have a tendency to just wear a life vest and shorts and water shoes. So, the whole way down the canyon and through every rapid, people are all bundled up in their rain jackets, and I’m just in shorts and my life vest the whole way.  We got to Phantom and it was low water, so at Horn Creek we were going to have to run the right side. I dug through my bag and pulled out a dry top to put on because I knew it was a big rapid. This one guest looked at me and he was like, “The guy that’s been wearing no shirt and a life vest the whole trip is putting on a dry top. This must be serious.” I thought that was pretty funny.

What is it about Grand Canyon that keeps luring you back every season?

I think it’s one of those places where you can actually find that primordial self. It’s one of those places where you can let go of the outside world and just experience nature.

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Photos: Josh Miller Photography